It was the most marvelous word he had ever heard.
Andrew Williams frowned at the scene in front of him. He must have snapped a hundred photos already, but he knew that he wouldn't be satisfied with any of them when he looked at them later.
He tried again.
Click. Click. Click.
He moved the camera away from his eyes and frowned again. The people in front of him were gorgeous, as usual, and they were in Greenwich Village on a particularly bright and sunny day, but for some reason none of the photos were right.
Maybe it wasn't even the photographs. Maybe it was him.
He had been feeling restless lately. The last time he had felt this restless, he had dropped out of Columbia and gone on an impromptu backpacking trip in Europe, packing only a few outfits and his camera.
"Why don't you guys take a break," he called out, both to the people he was photographing and the team around them, who were touching up on the models' makeup, smoothing out the creases in their clothes, and making sure their hair was just right.
They let go of the poses they were holding and started to move around. Andrew turned and made his way towards the snack table they usually had set up for such photoshoots. He was in the middle of putting cream cheese on his bagel when he spotted one of the models he had just been shooting walking towards him out of the corner of his eyes.
He thought her name was Valerie, or something like it, if he remembered clearly. She was still maybe ten steps away, but he could tell what she wanted just from the way that she was walking towards him.
Andrew took another bite of his bagel and made to grab a napkin.
"Hey," the girl said once she was close enough to him. Andrew glanced up. She had a hand on her hip and was flashing him a dazzling smile. She was gorgeous, albeit definitely on the skinny side. Her hair and makeup were perfect. "Andrew right?"
He eyed her warily, still chewing his bagel. She was probably in her early twenties, and had probably been modeling for at least a few years by now. He briefly considered what he knew she inevitably wanted. He knew he was good looking. He was young too. In a business where many of the photographers she encountered were no doubt middle aged men who hit on her whenever they had a chance to, he stood out.
"Yup," he said easily, "Valerie, right?"
She frowned briefly, but was otherwise undaunted. "Vanessa," she replied, the smile still in place. "Is this your first time shooting for Vogue?"
He shrugged, "This is my third time," he said. He guessed she asked him that because of his age. He wasn't even twenty-five yet.
Her eyes widened in surprise, but he didn't elaborate. The first time, they hadn't used his pictures. The second time, they had only used them in a small section, tucked in until it almost disappeared between advertisements for Prada and Dior. He had been disappointmented, not because his photos had been barely featured, but because they had truncated some of the scenery he had really liked in favor of focusing more on the models.
"Oh, I ask because I don't think I've met you before," Vanessa said, tucking a glossy strand of hair behind her ears and flashing him another sultry smile. "You're pretty young for someone doing these shoots. How old are you?"
Andrew flicked her another glance. He must be new because she hadn't met him before, she had implied. He could tell she was trying to convey to him that she had been modeling for a long time, that she had appeared in Vogue before.
"I'm twenty-four," he answered candidly, his eyes moving to look at the dress she was wearing. It was a blue Versace gown with a high slit up the thigh that showed plenty of leg. He thought it was hideous.
He looked back up to see her trying to hide a smile. She thought he was checking her out. He felt a slight twinge of annoyance. He didn't even understand why. Normally he wouldn't balk at the opportunity to hook up with a pretty girl, but today he just felt...restless.
"How old are you?" he asked instead, his tone casual.
"Twenty-one," she said.
"You're a baby," he replied, almost instantaneously. Vanessa pouted, a slight frown on her face. Just to drive the point through, he added. "You're my little sister's age."
He put extra emphasis on the word "little". Kayla wasn't really a baby anymore. She was close to graduating from NYU, but in his mind, she was still a little girl.
Vanessa opened her mouth, then closed it again. She seemed to be at a loss on how to respond. Andrew waited for a few seconds, and then decided that no, he was definitely not going to spend the night with her tonight.
"Well, it was nice to meet you," he said. Then, he grabbed another bagel, and without a backwards glance, walked back towards his camera.
Photography was almost an obsession for him. In high school, he had been effortlessly popular. He was good at sports and good at school. His parents were high society blue bloods who blessed each of their four children with good looks as well. But whereas his sister was shy about it and his two older brothers were more level-headed and focused on school, Andrew had been distinctly aware that he was good looking. And he was cocky enough to use it to his advantage.
But while he had plenty of friends at school, plenty of extracurriculars to keep him busy, and plenty of girls who went out of their way to flirt with him, what he really loved to do was to come home and pick up his camera.
Every Christmas and birthday, he had asked for a new lens or some other photography paraphernalia.
He knew Columbia would take him. When it came time for him to apply to college, he didn't really want to leave New York, so he had only applied to Columbia. He wasn't even worried. He knew he had the grades and the extracurriculars to get in.
It was okay, but it wasn't really for him. So his sophomore year, he decided that he was going to drop out. Just like that. What he really wanted was to be a professional photographer.
"You're crazy," his sister had told him, but he had only grinned back. She didn't say it because she wasn't supportive, but simply because she would never do something like that.
His parents weren't even surprised. Nor did they mind. They had always let him and his siblings do whatever they wanted, probably because they had enough money for their kids to fall back on, but he wasn't complaining about their attitude towards his decision, no matter the reason.
So he had taken all five of his lenses with him to Europe.
He didn't go because he wanted to see Europe. No, he had seen Europe before. He wanted to photograph it.
He pulled all nighters in Madrid to capture the city at dawn. He snuck up buildings in Paris to snap the city landscape. He walked along the Thames for hours at a time just to get the right lighting.
He was in Lisbon when he met her.
It was the final leg of his month long trip around Europe, and he had stopped by in a bar in Bairro Alto his second night there. He didn't mind traveling alone. It gave him the peace and quiet he really needed to take the proper photos. Sometimes in the evening, he would go to bars and people watch.
He had noticed her immediately. She was wearing a sheer blouse with a black tank top underneath it, twirling her hair and focused on reading the little notebook she had in front of her. He guessed that it was a planner.
Andrew was surprised, because girls didn't usually catch his attention like this. He didn't have to try to get girls to want him, and he was used to not having to try.
But something about her made his breath catch. She wasn't even stunningly gorgeous. He had been with prettier girls before, but he had found her insanely mesmerizing. She wasn't looking at him, but he could see her eyes as she laughed and talked with the bartender. He wished he could take a picture of her eyes.
The bar was relatively crowded, but there was an empty chair next to her. He threaded his way through to crowd towards her.
"A Corona, please," he said as he got to the bar, waving at the bartender, who nodded. They must get enough tourists here, because he didn't really have much trouble getting around.
Next to him, she looked up from her notebook at his words.
"You're American," she said in English, staring at him in surprise.
He looked at her. Her eyes were a kind of grey, but they were vivid and intense. He touched the camera at his side almost instinctively, and then brought his hands up to rest them on the bar counter.
"New Yorker," he said, grinning. She spoke English with a distinctively American accent. "You're American, too?"
She nodded, still looking at him curiously.
"Where do you live?" he asked, when she didn't elaborate.
"London," she said.
He laughed. "That's not America," he said, taking a gulp of the beer the bartender just handed him.
She looked at him, and then laughed. "No," she said, shaking her head. "It's not. I'm from Boston, but I'm studying at Cambridge right now."
"Ah, American schools not good enough for you?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
She shrugged, the smile still there, although now there was something else in her eyes. "I didn't want to be in Boston," she said. He tried to decipher what the look was but couldn't.
"So you decided to travel three thousand miles to London. That makes sense," he said, nodding at her. "I understand the dislike for Boston, but next time you should try New York. It's a bit closer."
"Just a little bit," she replied, the corner of her mouth lifting up slightly. She glanced at him as she said this, and he found himself fighting to hold her gaze. It surprised himself again. This was so unlike him. He took another gulp of beer, wondering what was going on.
"How long have you been at Cambridge?" Andrew asked. As a little boy, he had been the most misbehaving one out of all his siblings. His parents used to make him sit on his hands when he got too out of control. Now, he wanted to sit on his hands because he felt like they were shaking, and he was afraid she would see. He didn't know if they were actually shaking or not, but he didn't want to look in case they were.
"A year now," she replied, that slight smile still there as she looked at him playfully. In this crowded bar in Lisbon, it could just be the two of them. "They forgot to tell me that the weather in London is even worse than the weather in Boston."
He laughed. "I'm guessing you got lured in by pictures of the double decker buses and the red telephone booths."
"No, I was lured in by the pictures of Prince Harry," she said, her eyes sparkling as she grinned at him. She had dimples, and they looked more pronounced than ever now.
Damn, she was funnier than he had anticipated. He wished he had met her on the Lower East Side instead of in Bairro Alto. He wiped his palms on his jeans. He couldn't remember the last time a girl had made him feel nervous. He frowned as he wracked his brain. No, he really couldn't.
"So where's your British accent?" he asked, deciding that he would enjoy whatever time he had with her now, while she was still here, sitting in front of him.
"Oh, I'm working on it," she said, her smile deepening as she saw his eyes widen. She had said that in a perfect British accent. "I thought I would turn it off when I heard your New York accent."
"I don't have a New York accent," Andrew protested.
"No?" She raised an eyebrow. "How you doin'? Forget about it. I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse." She slurred out in a thick accent.
He nearly choked on his beer, laughing at her mockery of New York accents.
"Where do you think I grew up, on the set of The Godfather?" he asked her, grinning.
She laughed, and then looked at him dead in the eye and said, "I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart." She shook her hand at him to emphasize her words. Again, he was surprised. It was almost perfect Al Pacino.
"You know every line in the movie, or something?" Andrew asked, impressed.
She shrugged. "I know the good ones," she said. And then, looking up at him playfully again, she went on. "But you didn't grow up on the set of The Godfather, did you? That's not your accent. Not the Bronx, not Brooklyn..." she paused, and then glanced at his camera. "That's one hell of a camera," she said. "You're an Upper East Side kid, aren't you?"
"For a bit," he admitted. "Then my parents moved to a house on Long Island. And who're you calling a kid, I could be older than you for all you know."
She narrowed her eyes at him, scrutinizing him. "How old are you?" she asked.
For a brief second, he considered telling her that he was older than he actually was, but then decided against it.
"Twenty," he replied.
"I'm older," she said triumphantly, leaning back.
Andrew raised his eyebrow. "How old are you?" he asked.
"Well, that's rude," she said, crossing her arms and pretending to be offended. "You can't just ask a girl her age like that. Hasn't anyone ever told you what things you can and can't say to girls?"
"No point," he shrugged with a grin. "I like to lay out everything on the table when I first meet someone. How much do you weigh?"
She blinked at him, and he knew he had taken her by surprise, but she laughed when she saw the expression on his face.
"Well, you said you were in school, so you can't be that much older than me," he said.
"Maybe I'm doing a post-doc," she said.
He scoffed. "Fine, don't tell me."
"I'm twenty-one," she relented, smiling. "So just a bit older." Then, she turned her gaze towards her wrist to look at her watch. "Oh, crap!" she let out a soft curse, and then looked back at him apologetically. "I have to catch an overnight train, and I've got to run."
He looked up at her as she got up off her stool, gathering the planner that had been sitting on the table in front of her. He suddenly felt a sense of loss that took him off guard. He didn't want her to go, but he didn't know what else to do.
"Right," he muttered instead, running his hand through his hair in frustration and wondering what had gotten into him tonight. She didn't seem to hear him though. Instead, she was waving at the bartender and pointing towards the empty glass in front of her. He saw that it had the remnants of something orange in it. Probably something fruity.
"How much was this?" she asked.
The bartender glanced at the empty glass. "Five euros, ma'am," he said.
Andrew reached for his wallet, but she had already taken hers out.
"I'll get it," he said.
She gave him a brief glance. "Don't be silly," she said, waving him off and continuing to dig through her wallet.
"That was the best half an hour I've had in Europe yet," Andrew replied, and he meant it. He pulled out the money. "I've got it."
"Don't be ridiculous," she said, still digging through her wallet.
He looked at her. "You don't have cash on you, do you?" he asked.
She looked up, and bit her lip. "No, I don't."
He laughed. "Gosh, what would you do if I didn't show up tonight?" he asked, setting the money for her drink as well as his on the table.
She shrugged, grinning playfully at him. "I dunno, conned some other guy to pay for my drink?"
He laughed, and when he looked at her again he could see that she was looking at him quite seriously.
"I'll pay you back," she said.
He rolled his eyes, sure he was not going to see her again.
"No, I will," she said, putting a hand on his arm.
He looked down to where her hand was resting on his forearm, and he resisted the urge to move closer towards her.
How about you just give me a kiss instead? The words were on the tip of his tongue. That was what his usual self would say, and he knew how to be just charming enough to pull it off too. But he couldn't say it. He really wanted to kiss her, but he just couldn't say it.
"Maybe someday," he said instead with a smile.
"Someday," she repeated with a light smile. She picked her bag up, about to head out the door.
He caught her elbow before she turned. "I'm Andrew, by the way," he said, sticking out his hand.
She put her hand in his. It fit comfortably in his. "Abigail," she said, her eyes meeting his.
And then, just like that, her hand slipped out of his, and she was gone.
That was four years ago, and he had never seen her again.
It was four years ago, but for some reason, he had never been able to forget about it. Over the last four years, he had met other girls at bars, but he always thought about her. He wondered if he should have gotten more than just her first name at that bar in Lisbon, but even if he did, what would be the point? She was still in Cambridge, and he was in New York. He was sure it was just a fluke, that that night in Lisbon had been just an off day where he wasn't himself, but still he thought about her constantly.
He went back to New York and built up an impressive portfolio. He started by taking photos of people and sights on the streets of New York for blogs and then for small galleries that contacted him to display his work. He used the money from that to rent a studio on the Upper West Side. It was part living quarters and part the office where he worked on his photographs. His work became more and more well known, and now magazines were hiring him to do shoots for them.
He must have done dozens of shoots by now, taken thousands of photos. But his studio only had one photograph of his hanging on the wall. It was an outline of Lisbon at night, when the sun had just set and the city was aglow with light. He could walk up to it and put his finger on the place where he had met her.
The week after the Vogue photoshoot, he went to a restaurant in SoHo to meet a group of his friends for dinner. He showed up early, as was his habit, because he liked to people watch. It helped him brainstorm ideas for photographs he wanted to take.
He was sure he was the first of his friends to arrive at the restaurant, so he was surprised when he heard his name.
He frowned, searching around for the source, when he saw the girl from the Vogue shoot waving enthusiastically towards him. What was her name? Victoria? He had already forgotten.
She was motioning him over, and he was about to shake his head and move towards the table reserved for him and his friends when he saw who was sitting across the table from her, behind her frantically beckoning hand.
It felt as if someone had punched him in the gut. His hand slipped on the chair where it had been resting.
She was looking at him, those silver eyes curious and bright. He couldn't tell at all if she recognized him, but he was sure it was her.
He made his way over towards their table in a daze.
"Andrew, it's so good to see you here! Isn't this place fantastic? It's supposed to be really hard to get a reservation, but they were nice enough when I called and mentioned my name, they said they had a spot," Vanessa or Valerie was going on and on, standing up and putting her hand on his arm, but he wasn't even looking at her.
He was feeling restless again, restless and jittery. His eyes were on Abigail, and he searched her face for any sign that she would recognize him. If he had been half as memorable to her as she had been to him, he was sure she would recognize him immediately.
He watched her carefully. Abigail was looking at him with a curious but polite expression on her face. He waited for the recognition to dawn on her, but it never did. She didn't remember.
He felt a bitter disappointment sink in, but he realized he was being unreasonable. Why would she remember him? Why should she? It was half an hour in a bar four years ago. He had already forgotten the girl who had danced with him at the club four days ago, so why would Abigail remember him?
"This is Andrew, he was the photographer for the Versace shoot I was just telling you about," Vogue girl said, making introductions. "Andrew, this is my friend, Abigail."
He couldn't breathe. He knew it was her, but somehow, hearing her name again was a confirmation that left him winded. He looked into her silver-gray eyes, unable to help the feeling of hope that was bubbling up inside him again.
"It's nice to meet you," she smiled, a smile that was both friendly and too polite for his liking. Their hands met. He knew she didn't recognize him and couldn't help the unpleasantness that was swirling in the pit of his stomach.
He forced on a smile that he wasn't feeling as he shook her hand.
But then, miraculously, the corner of her mouth lifted up. There was now an uncertainty intermingled with playfulness in her eyes as she looked at him. That distant politeness seemed to fade, and he marveled at what was happening when she parted her lips and spoke.
It was the most marvelous word he had ever heard.